Commentary

X factors to keep an eye on

Fouls? Free throws? Offensive flow? These elements might impact showdown

Updated: December 17, 2013, 11:10 AM ET
By Rebecca Lobo | espnW.com

The top two teams in the women's game meet Tuesday night when top-ranked UConn heads to Durham, N.C., to play No. 2 Duke. The Huskies have beaten the Blue Devils six straight times with an average margin of victory of nearly 30 points. (Duke kept it close for a half last season, down only two points at the break, but UConn blew it open in the second half.)

Does Duke have the talent and experience to beat UConn? Yes, without a doubt. Will the Blue Devils finally be able to play a full 40 minutes in order to get the W? We'll have to tune in to see (ESPN2/WatchESPN, 7 p.m. ET).

Here is what I'll be keeping my eye on while watching the game.

The UConn bench -- at the beginning of the game

[+] EnlargeMosqueda-Lewis
AP Photo/Jessica HillUConn All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis hasn't played since Nov. 11.
I want to know who is on the bench and what she's wearing. I don't mean Chris Dailey, Shea Ralph and Marissa Moseley -- although they are some of the best-dressed assistants in the game. I want to know if Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck are in uniform and ready to play. Both women missed the past eight games recovering from injury. Will they play? Will KML start? How effective will they be? Mosqueda-Lewis' 3-point shooting could be especially important since Duke likes to play a variety of zone defenses. When healthy, KML is the Huskies' best zone buster.

The Duke bench -- with four minutes left in the first half

Do the players look like they believe they can beat UConn? These Duke seniors have lost only 13 games in their college careers, but 30 percent of those losses were blowouts at the hands of the Huskies. Will Duke be able to counter an inevitable run by UConn -- or will it bring the old "here we go again" vibe?

And where will Elizabeth Williams be? The junior center/forward has struggled with foul trouble this season -- she has picked up two fouls in the first half in five of Duke's games. Williams is coming off a game at Oklahoma where she fouled out in 10 minutes of action. Duke needs her defensive presence on the floor. She doesn't need to score a lot, but she needs to defend UConn's bigs and alter a shot or two when the Huskies' guards get inside with dribble penetration.

UConn's offense

UConn struggled to find a flow offensively against Ohio State's changing defenses earlier this month. Breanna Stewart attempted only 11 field goals in that game. Like OSU, Duke is a team that likes to change things up defensively (man-to-man, full-court zones, half-court zones). How much has UConn's offense improved? Will Stewart hunt shots and knock them down?

Duke's offense

Duke needs to get baskets in transition in order to beat UConn. The Huskies have been able to consistently shut down the Blue Devils' top options when it becomes a half-court game. While sophomore guard Alexis Jones can create her own shot in the half court, life will be much easier for the rest of the Blue Devils' scorers if they get some transition buckets. Senior guard Chelsea Gray is an outstanding passer in the open court. She needs to find a way (steals, long rebounds) to get there.

Duke's Tricia Liston

[+] EnlargeTricia Liston
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeSenior guard Tricia Liston (team-high 18.3 PPG) is one of five Blue Devils averaging double-figure scoring.
The 6-foot-1 senior has been the best player on the floor in many games for Duke this season. She's leading the team in scoring (18.3 PPG) and once again shooting lights out from the 3-point line (53 percent).

But in four career games versus UConn, Liston has scored nine points … total. The Blue Devils need to get her more touches than they did a year ago in Storrs, Conn. (when she took one shot in 24 minutes). They need to find Liston in transition or kick the ball out to her on dribble drives by Jones and Gray. However they do it, the Blue Devils need to make sure Liston stays involved.

UConn's Moriah Jefferson

Jefferson played only six minutes in the Duke game last season, but she is a completely different player than she was a season ago. UConn coach Geno Auriemma called her a "game-changer" after her outstanding defensive performance at Maryland early this season. The 5-7 sophomore guard will be a defensive key to slowing down Jones' penetration and will be important offensively as UConn tries to handle Duke's pressure defense.

Free throw line

Duke gets to the line a lot, shooting 23 free throws per game. But the Blue Devils are playing against a UConn team that leads the country in fewest fouls per game; the Huskies' opponents average only six points per game from the line (on nine attempts).

Duke will have a much better chance at finally beating UConn if it can get Breanna Stewart and Stefanie Dolson into foul trouble. The Blue Devils will also have a much better chance at finally beating UConn if they can get some easy points from the line.

Giveaways

Duke is giving away Santa hats to the first 5,000 fans who come to the game. While everyone looks good in a Santa hat, that's not the only giveaway I'm focusing on. We're talking turnovers here. Duke was able to keep last season's game close for a half because UConn had 12 first-half turnovers. This season Duke is averaging 29 points off turnovers. Forcing turnovers is the Blue Devils' best way to get easy baskets in transition.

Rebecca Lobo

Women's Basketball
    Lobo won the 1995 National Player of the Year Award after leading the UConn women's basketball team to its first national championship. She was the youngest member of the 1996 gold-medal-winning Olympic team, and now, after seven seasons in the WNBA, covers basketball for ESPN.

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